Here Comes the Bride'gome'!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. My new neighbor is from Sweden. When she saw a dog-grooming shop, she asked what "grooming" had to do with a "groom" at a wedding. We came up with two theories: 1) the need to clean up the future husband for the wedding ceremony, or 2) a "groom," meaning someone responsible for keeping horses in top shape. Is either one correct? -- Cyndi ...Read more

Pomp and Circumlocution

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Graduates of the college class of 2015:

I'm honored to be your commencement speaker today ... blah, blah, blah. Let's get right to the important stuff. As you interview for jobs, avoid these verbal potholes:

1. "I graduated college last week..." This phrasing will scorch the ears of anyone over 30. Say: "I graduated FROM college."

2. ...Read more

Double Your Money!

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Today, two questions about plural forms of payment...

Q. Yesterday I used the word "monies," and my 14-year-old daughter accused me of making it up. I was able to convince her it is a real word by using the Internet, but I have been unable to accurately explain to her why we use it and when it is appropriate to use it instead of "money." Can ...Read more

Now for Some Back Talk

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I love palindromes! Or, to put that another way, "Sem ord nil ape. Voli!"

What's a palindrome?

Though the word "palindrome" sounds as if it might refer to a sports arena where good friends race bicycles, "palindrome" actually denotes any word, phrase or sentence that reads the same backward or forward.

"Palindrome" derives from the Greek ...Read more

We're No. 1! Why 'No. 1'?

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. Why is "No." the abbreviation for "number" ("No. 1 player"), when the word "number" doesn't even have an "o" in it? -- Carl Faith via email

A. Many English abbreviations seem odd because they're derived from Latin. In this case, for instance, the abbreviation "No." is a shortening of "numero," the ablative form of the Latin noun "numerus."...Read more

A Minute, a Man and a Mongoose

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Welcome to The One-Minute Grammager: straightforward answers to 10 usage questions in just 60 seconds.

--Is it "nerve-wracking" or "nerve-racking"? The latter. "Wrack" means "to completely destroy," as in "wrack and ruin." "Rack" means "to torture, torment," as in "rack your brains" or "nerve-racking."

--Do we wait with "baited breath" or "...Read more

Headlines Provoke 'After'thoughts

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. Lately I've been annoyed by the misuse of "after" in news headlines, e.g., "Seven hurt after lightning strike" (print) and "House demolished after two-alarm fire" (TV). The accompanying news stories made it clear that the lightning did indeed hurt the people and the fire did indeed destroy the house. When did "after" become a synonym for "...Read more

Getting 'Judge'mental About Usage

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Hear ye! Hear ye! The Word Court is now in session. Today we will rule on three cases:

All Tolled vs. All Told

This phrase is most often used to indicate a complete accounting of items, e.g., "All told, 23 women and 24 men enrolled in the course." Some writers use "tolled," perhaps because collecting a toll or tolling a bell might involve ...Read more

A Little Slice of Heaven

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. I've heard that the phrase "pie in the sky" was coined by the radical labor leader Joe Hill. Is that true? -- Carl Faith via email

A. That's not a "pie in the sky" folk tale. It IS true!

Joe Hill, a member of the radical union Industrial Workers of the World, was a legendary labor activist and songwriter. In 1911, he wrote a parody of the...Read more

Getting Possessive About Nouns

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. I recently told a fellow Steinway Society board member that no apostrophe is needed in "winners recital" (a concert featuring several pianists) any more than one is needed in "teachers union." What we have here is a noun modifying another noun. What's that called? -- Fritz Marston, Ewing, N.J.

A. A noun mound? Actually, the term for a noun...Read more

'If Not' Poses Knotty Questions

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

In crafting a college recommendation for a student recently, I unintentionally sailed into the murky mist of ambiguity by writing: "She is very bright, if not brilliant."

Hmm... Does this mean she's very bright but not brilliant, or very bright and maybe even brilliant? I meant the latter, of course, but the "if not" is ambiguous.

So to all ...Read more

If the 'T' Fits, Wear It

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q. Why do we say something "fits to a T"? -- Al Cohen, Newington, Conn.

A. Well, this idiom definitely doesn't come from "fits to a T-shirt," because every T-shirt I've worn lately is either too baggy or too tight. A large T-shirt makes me look like a draped haystack, and a medium makes me feel like a tightly wrapped mummy.

In fact, the "T" ...Read more


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